Italian Tutorial: The “Holy Gifts” and “The Star of Bethlehem”

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The “Holy Gifts” and “The Star of Bethlehem”

For 2012 years, the star that shone over the humble crib of Bethlehem led the wise men of the East, the Magi to the newborn Jesus and the salvation.
Since then, the Bethlehem’s star make the humanity hopes for a better world, peaceful and fair.
The story of the Magi, as we learned it in our childhood and according to the Christian tradition, begins many years before the birth of Christ, when a Persian prophet called Balaam, prophesied that “a star will rise and the Savior will be born”. The prophecy was passed on from generation to generation, as a sign of the birth of a great King; the King of kings.

Many years after such prediction in Persia, three distant descendants of Balaam and wise astrologers, realized that the time was right for the prophecy to be fulfilled. So, according to tradition, the three Magi, Melchior, the youngest and without a beard, Gaspar, the eldest and almost always with a beard and Belshazzar, very dark or black, started their journey to honour to bring gifts to the new King.
As king Herod learned what the Magi had in mind, called them for a hearing and he told them to seek and find the newborn King and to inform him immediately, so that he could also go and worship Him. The truth was that Herod wanted to kill the infant, because he believed that his kingdom was threatened by the newborn.

In the meantime, the three Magi had found the newborn and had offered their gifts, which were gold, frankincense and myrrh. The gold that Melchior gave to Jesus symbolised His royal origin, as gold was offered to kings; the frankincense that Belshazzar gave to Jesus symbolised His divine origin, as incense was used (like today) in religious ceremonies; the myrrh that Gaspar gave to Jesus symbolised His mortal origin, as myrrh was a material used in medicine, but also in the burial of the dead. With myrrh the Magi showed the sacrifice that Christ made for the salvation of humans.

The Virgin Maria wanting to reciprocate the gifts of the Magi, gave to each of them a piece of Jesus infancy (swaddling clothes).
The Magi, having carried out their mission, took their way back home, without inform Herod about the location of the Holy Child. Herod, having understood the “treason” of the Magi, ordered the slaughter of all newborns. The three Magi returned to Persia and  were later baptized Christians by the Apostle Thomas.

So, gold, frankincense and myrrh were the “Holy Gifts” of the Magi to Jesus. The Virgin Maria delivered them to the Church of Jerusalem, before Her Assumption. The “Holy Gifts” remained until 400 AC in Jerusalem. Then, the Byzantine emperor Arcadius carried them to Constantinople, where they remained until 1453 AC, the year when the city fell into the hands of Muhammad the Conqueror. From the hands of the conquerors, as the tradition says, the “Holy Gifts” was saved by Maro, the Christian wife of Sultan Murat II (1421-1451) and stepmother of Muhammad II.

Maro transferred them to the Holy Monastery of St. Paul of the Holy Mountain Athos in Greece, where they remain till today and miraculously and continuously emit a fragrance.

This monastery was chosen by Maro, because the church of the monastery (that is dedicated to the martyr St. George) was built by her father George Vragkovits, who was a despot of Serbia.

It is also worth mentioning that, the gold is in the form of 28 pieces of carefully engraved coins, with various shapes (rectangular, trapezoidal, polygonal, etc.) and measuring about 5 X 7 centimetres. The frankincense and myrrh are about sixty beads of the size of an olive, all mixed together.

There is a mystery about the number of the Magi. The number “three” was introduced by the Pope Leo in the 5th century, because of the three gifts offered to Jesus Christ.

It is certain, however, that the Magi were wise astrologers who followed the shining star and traveled for many days to worship Jesus. For this star, also, have been many theories and opinions of philosophers, physicists, astronomers, theologians and thinkers over the centuries, who have dealt with the question: what was it?
I will briefly mention three of the most prevalent theories:

  • Saint John Chrysostom and others stated in their writings that there was an Angel, who the Magi saw him as a star.
  • Origen Adamantios (witness of Christianity and teacher who lived at the beginning of the third century AD) claimed that it was a comet.
  • Finally, Kepler (astronomer who lived in the 16th century AD) said that the “Star of Bethlehem” was a gathering of planets and, with this theory, modern astronomers agreed.

Whatever the “Star of Bethlehem” was, one thing is certain and this is that it existed. It was what guided the Magi and, as Damascene says: “Even if it were a natural phenomenon, this happened at the right time, after the intervention of God“.

About the Mount Athos

Mount Athos, or Aghion Oros, is not a common place to visit for a vacation, especially for women, since they are banned under a prohibition, in order to make the life of celibacy easier for the monks and hermits, who living in the most eastern peninsula of Halkidiki. It is a silence place dedicated to meditation, prayer, study and inner peace. Protected by the UNESCO World Heritage project, Mount Athos, with its 20 Orthodox monasteries and numerous cloisters, cells and hermitages, is a unique place to visit and offers a unique experience.

You can attend services running almost all day along, venerate the relics of the monasteries or cross the wild Athos Desert between the monasteries. The plain food of the monks, consisting basically of fresh fish and vegetables is another highlight of the simple and austere life, praised throughout the world. You can visit the capital of Athos, Karyes and even climb the mountain’s peak during the summer.

Visitors, who receive the necessary written permission from the dedicated bureau in Thessaloniki, can spend from one to four days maximum in one of the monasteries. With some 1,400 monks residing permanently there, Mount Athos is an autonomous state under Greek sovereignty and it is an area strictly controlled.

Once the Bishop Nikolaj Velimirović wrote about Athos:

   “The kingdom without a crown, the State without an army, the Wisdom without school, the Cuisine without meat, the Wealthy without money, …”.

All the above is for general purposes and for information only.

© Italian Tutorial, 2012. All rights reserved.


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